How to diagnose organizational culture (and have a shot at changing it)

Whenever someone talks about organizational culture people immediately picture different things: How people work, what activities are done to help team building, what processes exist or how space, artifacts and values shape what we do and how we think. Within all of these areas of influence, there are always values and competing values that will shape an organization for the better, or for the worst.

Kim Cameron describes a simple framework to be able to understand what spheres of influence we need to pay attention too and which competing forces exist between them. There are basically four quadrants which focus on people management, hierarchy, innovation in products/services offered and client/market focus. At the same time these quadrants have different attributes to them, like flexibility and discretion, stability and control, internal focus and integrations and external focus and differentiation, which are showed in the following graphic:

The competing values of Total Quality Management

This Framework is very helpful because it identifies very quickly the key elements of the four main cultural patterns/structures that underly good organizational performance: Clan, Hierarchy, Market and Adhocracy (which stands for "innovation"). From a Management point of view, stability and a good company culture are reached when there are components that fill these four quadrants, but not equally: There will always be one of the quadrants that is dominant, if this is not the case, probably the company is unclear about their culture.

For example, if we lack internal focus and integration, this will always translate into dysfunctional services in detriment of "external focus and differentiation": Companies cannot treat their customers better than they treat their employees, which leads us to the importance of the next competing values chart.

The competing values of human resource management

In most companies today, what we see is a Human Resource department that focuses on administrative tasks in detriment of reinforcing company culture. They are immerse in the infrastructure dictated by the business, which also divides departments and budgeting in ways that makes sense from their point of view but does not from a cultural collaboration standpoint. It's important that budgets are able to be assigned or shared as fluently as possible to avoid the question of "who will be paying for this?" in joined projects with other areas, specially if we are trying to break a silo culture. HR needs to overlook processes like this and take an active role not only in recruiting but also onboarding and knowledge management. Focusing on the role that they should be playing is essential to help build the company culture you desire. Relegating HR as an administrative back office leaves us with zero filled quadrants and makes HR non existent. Using the framework will, as Cameron puts it:

"It provides a way to make the HR function more strategic, more inclusive, and more rational."

The competing values of Corporate Mission, Vision and Values

Using the framework to understand mission, vision and values will also help to quickly assess the company's weaker cultural spots. It is important to note that in some cases, like Whirpool, rapid changes and innovation in their sector happen slowly (there have not been dramatic changes in fridges or washing machines for quite a while), but there will be always a risk of being surpassed by another competitor in the sector that values de Adhocracy quadrant.

It is also interesting to get company documents like corporate magazines or presentations made by top executives to assess their values more deeply. I did this for a company I worked for a while ago to make people realize how all of this was shaping their processes and outputs. Instead of presenting mission, vision and values in a quadrant format, I did a mural version which people could navigate, with illustrations to help:

By putting this forward, people could see what was my thought process behind what was said about the quadrants. It also helped me to see how much goals they had attained, which they had planned for at least three years ago, how many projects where dedicated to internal and external problems that needed to be solved, how they described their long term and short term goals etc. This could be a step you could do to interiorize yourself further and go beyond just plain mission statements, which I strongly recommend. You can also print this out and put it up somewhere for everyone to see and invite them to write down post its notes to comment.

Make sure you are presenting these findings to make them useful to people, to make them interact with them, make them palpable: Co-construct how will you change unsaid rules and ways of working and factor it in ongoing projects that touch every department and key players in the organizations ecosystem.

It is important to note that the competing values framework will only help you to set a base, but you will need to dive deeper and probably will find variables that don't exactly fit the model, adapt as needed, models are just how one person decided to sort and arrange stuff at a certain time.

Senior Strategic designer, passionate about design and creativity applied to Service Design, UX and Strategy. (Paris/Argentina)

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